Humanitarian catastrophe looms: Thousands die in earthquake in Afghanistan

Humanitarian catastrophe looms

Thousands dead in earthquake in Afghanistan

At least a thousand people lost their lives in the earthquake in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and hundreds were injured. The tremors can be felt almost 500 kilometers away. The fear of a humanitarian catastrophe is great.

A devastating earthquake in eastern Afghanistan has killed at least a thousand people. The rescue workers and residents in the remote disaster area also had to take care of hundreds of injured people after the night tremor, the authorities said. The Taliban leadership asked aid organizations for immediate support “to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe”. The EU held out the prospect of aid deliveries, and the federal government expressed its condolences to those affected.

The quake had a magnitude of 5.9, according to the USGS. It happened around 1:30 a.m. local time on the border with Pakistan. A second magnitude 4.5 quake struck at almost the same location at the same time, according to the USGS. The tremors were felt in the capital Kabul, around 200 kilometers away, and in Lahore, Pakistan, 480 kilometers away.


A Red Crescent aid worker in the earthquake-hit Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

(Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Bakhtar News Agency)

The casualty count kept rising. Shortly after the death toll passed the 100 and 250 mark respectively, Deputy Minister for Disaster Relief Sharafuddin Muslim spoke at a press conference of at least 920 dead and 600 injured. Eventually, at least a thousand fatalities were reported in Paktika province alone. And the number of victims continues to rise, said the head of the information and culture authority there, Mohammed Amin Husaifa. “People dig one grave after another.” In addition, people are still buried under the rubble.

Taliban ask for help

Photos on online networks showed numerous collapsed houses in rural areas. Jakub Mansor, a tribal chief from Paktika, told the AFP news agency on the phone that the surviving residents organized help themselves and transported the injured away.

Anas Hakkani, a senior representative of the radical Islamist Taliban, said the government was helping “within its means.” “We hope that the international community and aid organizations will also help our people in this terrible situation,” Hakkani added. “We call on aid organizations to provide immediate assistance to the earthquake victims to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” Afghan Deputy Government Spokesman Bilal Karimi wrote on Twitter. The head of the Johanniter aid program in Afghanistan, Louis Marijnissen, explained that the disaster area was “very mountainous and difficult to access”. His aid organization will now quickly send mobile clinics there.

The humanitarian situation is already precarious

The German government “expressed its deepest sympathy to the Afghan people.” “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the many injured,” tweeted government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he was “deeply saddened” by the disaster. His country is trying to help Afghanistan. The European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, wrote on Twitter that the EU was “ready to coordinate and deliver emergency aid”. According to the UN, several teams were sent to the affected areas. Pope Francis said in Rome that he was praying for the earthquake victims and that his thoughts were with “the injured and those affected”.

Earthquakes are not uncommon in Afghanistan and especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The damage is often devastating because of the poor structural fabric of many Afghan houses. Added to this is the fact that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is already catastrophic almost a year ago as a result of the withdrawal of Western troops and the takeover of power by the radical Islamic Taliban. There is a shortage of food and medicine. According to aid organizations and the United Nations, Afghanistan needs billions to stabilize the humanitarian situation. Aid organizations have also been warning for a long time that the country must take better precautions for disasters such as earthquakes, floods and landslides.

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